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A Sharp Critique of Consumerism

Discussion in 'Consumer Affairs' started by Sunstone, Jun 6, 2018.

  1. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    TRIGGER WARNING! This post contains graphic and explicit references to common and frequent teenage traumas. Proceed at your own risk!


    It can be hard not to think of yourself as a dour Puritan ideologically opposed to anyone having fun or taking pleasure in life when and if you come out against consumerism. How on earth can you be against material comforts and, say, exciting new electronics or pretty fashions?

    Puritans? By the gods that's putting it mild! Who cannot believe such people are not dreamy idealists? Or worse, dreamy pleasure-denying, celibate idealists? Or even worse, dreamy pleasure-denying, celibate, busy-body idealists! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Burn the witch!

    Yet, I'm still going to come out against consumerism. And no, I'm not really scared I'll be burnt at the stake. That just never happens these days, and it would be silly even by my standards to think it could. Instead, I'm quite certain I'll soon be driven from my home into the modern day equivalent of a desolate, howling wilderness: A Walmart store on Black Friday.

    But let me be clear: I'm not opposed to materialism itself. At least not on principle. While I would not advise even an especially obnoxious person such as @Terese to make material things her chief pursuit in life, who can possibly be against creature comforts? Do such people really want a return to the days before indoor plumbing, central heating and air conditioning?

    No, it's only consumerism I'm opposed to on principle. But you might ask, what actually is consumerism if not the same as materialism?

    Granted the two things are in some ways just as locked to each other as those unfortunate, but so many teenage couples who on prom night understandably fling themselves at each other the very first moment they are alone, and so passionately only a dentist armed with a mini-jackhammer is reliably able to separate their nearly heat-welded braces.

    Yet, close as they are, materialism and consumerism are in at least one vital way distinct. As I'm defining them here, the one is the simply the belief material goods and services have value, even great value. Nothing more than that.

    The second involves self-identifying with material goods and services to the extreme extent that one actively seeks self-fulfillment through both their acquisition and possession. The difference between the materialism and consumerism is both subtle and consequential.

    I buy a house. I like my house. I think my house is a jolly good house. Maybe I'm even proud of myself because I own my house. All of that is mere materialism.

    In contrast, consumerism starts even before I buy a house. It begins the moment I think owning a house can be a means to significant self-fulfillment. I try to actualize my self, I try to realize or create my self, through buying and owning a house. The house not only becomes "me", I not only self-identify with it, but I also actively seek self-fulfillment through identifying with it. I become bigger, more important, more valuable -- least in my own eyes.

    But is there anything wrong with that?

    "Wrong" can mean so many things that if words were people, and their meanings were their deeds, "wrong" would easily be as busy as a virgin teenage boy for the first time in his life fumbling in earnest with a bra clasp, and fully conscious he's in imminent danger of reaching premature orgasm before he's even come close to his heart-felt and quite understandable goal of plunging himself face-first into her naked cleavage.

    God help them both if they also wear braces! Sadly, only some of life's most tragic and predictable accidents are truly preventable.

    One meaning of "wrong" that I am not in the least concerned with here is "moral" wrong. Consumerism could be morally right or morally wrong and neither state of affairs would much more than bore me. But I almost passionately believe consumerism is wrong -- foolishly wrong -- in how it so easily distracts people from more substantial and meaningful forms of self-fulfillment.

    Now, a risk here is that I might fall into the distasteful trap of telling others what they should or should not value. That I intend not to do. Rather, I will confine my analysis merely to what I believe are the obvious consequences of a failure to pursue more substantial and meaningful forms of self-fulfillment than through material things.

    The chief reason is this: As far as I can see, there is no real self-fulfillment at all. That is, there is no genuine development and realization of your true self. All that happens is you create and swell up an illusion that you then mistake for yourself. What else can believing a house is "you" be but a falsehood, an illusion?

    To make your purpose in life creating and maintaining illusions about who you are as a person seems a bit meaningless. But I think it's worse than that. I submit that most of us who chase after mere illusions are reduced to a life dominated by boredom. As if our lives were lived endlessly standing in line. It's a life we constantly try to escape via all means of entertainment. Thus, we become junkies addicted to fleeting pleasures that not only soon leave us craving for more, but whose highs are all we have left to live for.

    If you have asked why so few people seem capable of living passionately, I think you'll find an answer in how most of us pursue pleasurable entertainments that dull down or substitute for any true passion for living we might have once known as small, joyful children.

    To sum, my chief objection to consumerism has no more to do with its morality or moral value than a wild turkey can be a satisfying conversational partner for people with more brains than our President. Instead I go much further than that to assert that consumerism is at least as meaningless, fundamentally unsatisfying, and preventive of passionately affirming life as a teenage girl's profound disappointment is poignant when it fully dawns on her that her boyfriend's cruelly premature orgasm can only mean she is fated to remain a chaste, virtuous, and utter virgin on her prom night.

    Comments? Questions?
     
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  2. Quintessence

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    I'm not sure I abide your particular distinction between consumerism and materialism, but to me the far larger problem of both of them is that their rampancy ruthlessly exploits and exterminates the non-human world. The current era of ecocide is driven by three things in prime - human overpopulation (increased consumption via numbers), human affluence (increased consumption per capita), and human technology (goods are more resource-inensive to produce). That's the I=PAT equation, for those of you who are familiar. Whether or not the underling mental pathology Sunstone describes is present, the resulting ecocide persists regardless of how a human feels about their materialist habits. But hey, most humans are woefully anthropocentric. If it takes a human-centered argument to get them to kick the buy-buy-buy mentality to the curb, so be it.
     
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  3. Nakosis

    Nakosis crystal soldier
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    I think perhaps you've been celibate too long. ;)

    I see materialism as a means to a goal. I might buy an aesthetic house or piece of property for the peace/tranquility I find in knowing I can make use of it whenever I wish. I buy a faster car so I know I can prove my dominance in the ebb and flow of daily traffic, if I feel like it.

    So I guess materialism allows me to do what I want to do when I feel like doing it. Materialism is the pursuit of freedom. Freedom to do what I want when I want.
     
  4. sayak83

    sayak83 Well-Known Member
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    Is consumerism a problem though? From what I hear, more than 60% of America are barely making ends meet with low paying jobs, debts from student loans, health expenses, mortgages and what not even after working day and night. Rich people are few and far between, even in silicon valley.

    So, what consumerism?
     
  5. PureX

    PureX Veteran Member

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    That sounds like the pursuit of selfishness, to me, not freedom. If one were really in pursuit of freedom, they might choose to let go of all those selfishness desires, so as to be free OF THEM.
     
  6. Nakosis

    Nakosis crystal soldier
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    Why?

    Sorry, if you haven't responded yet, allow me to clarify...

    I see all desires as ultimately selfish. So letting of "selfish desires" is the same as letting go of all desires. I suspect this would leave a person pretty numb to the world, lacking desire to have any interaction with it. Doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me.
     
    #6 Nakosis, Jun 6, 2018
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2018
  7. PureX

    PureX Veteran Member

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    To be free of them, and of the effort and responsibilities required to satiate them.
     
  8. Nakosis

    Nakosis crystal soldier
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    Sorry you didn't catch my edit.

    But, be free of them and do what?

    Just seems a bit of a boring life to me.
     
  9. PureX

    PureX Veteran Member

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    So does being free to do whatever one pleases whenever one pleases. Not only boring, but wasteful and meaningless. But that wasn't really my point. My point is that there is a big difference between freedom and selfishness.
     
  10. Nakosis

    Nakosis crystal soldier
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    Ok, but if you've no desire for anything what good does freedom do you?
     
  11. PureX

    PureX Veteran Member

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    Not all desires are selfish. Also, some people find great value in the idea of 'being', rather than 'doing'. In eastern philosophy and religion, it tends to be the more important goal: fulfilling one's being, rather then one's desires.
     
  12. Nakosis

    Nakosis crystal soldier
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    What desire is not selfish? What value is there is being? Is it fulfilling a desire?

    I suppose a apple doesn't have to do anything to be an apple. I'm not an apple though. Maybe if I was "being" would be ok.

    Should we all be like apples? Sitting there waiting to be eaten? Fulfilling our role in the greater scheme of the universe? What if human beings have a different role? I'd imagine human beings have desires for a reason, scientific or spiritual whichever your preference.
     
  13. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    That's an interesting take on the OP.

    As I'm sure you know, there is neither a divine nor human authority that sets the meanings of words. People are free to use words anyway they want. Hopefully, they will make their meanings clear either in context or explicitly as I have done. So I'm not sure what point you were trying to make, if any, when you said you're not sure you can abide by meanings, especially given that you give no reason for your comment. Do you only mean they "rub you the wrong way"?

    Second, while I recognize that we are currently destroying ecosystems wholesale, I blame neither materialism nor consumerism for it. I blame market driven economic systems, of which market driven capitalism is by far the chief culprit. Without such a means to fulfill people's demand for material things, they would wish their whole lives for more and more goods without it resulting in a single extra acre of rain forest destroy.

    Last, as for the "underlying pathology of consumerism", no one needs to take its existence on faith. Anyone can discover how such a thing works by taking up meditation and making a sustained and insightful enough effort to discover how the human sense of self is created and functions.
     
  14. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    You're right in what you say. But I'm not so much interested here in the feasibility of rampant consumerism as I am in the consequences of almost any consumerism on the "soul" or "spirit" of people, to use convenient words for it.
     
  15. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    Materialism is fine and of little danger to people, at least in a strictly psychological sense. In terms of its impact on the environment, that's another matter, but not one at issue here.

    It's consumerism, as I've defined it, that I see as gravely dangerous in psychological terms.
     
  16. PureX

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    The desire to increase the well-being of others. The desire to husband the environment.
    The value of fulfilling one's purpose within the whole of being.
    You are also more than your desires.
    Do you think that is the apple's purpose? To be eaten? I don't. I do, however, think everything that exists has a finite term, and that even in it's "death" new forms of existence are enabled.
    I think our role is multiplex.
    Yes, and although self-pleasure may be one of them, it's only one of many. There are others that are perhaps more important.
     
  17. Nakosis

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    Yes, I find a lot of pleasure in these pursuits. Don't you?

    How do you know I'm not doing by doing exactly what I'm doing?

    I never said anything about being my desires... :confused:

    Not exactly, it's purpose is to protect the seed and provide a means of distribution. Humans however have repurposed it.

    Ok, I don't understand exactly the point of this response but I see nothing to argue about.

    I think this knowledge of our role in any bigger scheme is beyond our understanding. However this knowledge, our possession of it, is unnecessary. Folks are going to go about doing what they do and things happen.

    But, isn't desire that drives you forward? Or at least someone else's desire that moves you along. Being that sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we can't do what we desire because of someone else's desire. Your parents say no or say it's the desire of the state to incarcerate you etc...

    Whatever happens, it's the fulfillment of someone's desire.
     
  18. Nakosis

    Nakosis crystal soldier
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    I suspect anything that becomes an obsession can be dangerous. If you are referring to materialism as an obsession I don't disagree.
     
  19. PureX

    PureX Veteran Member

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    No, not as a rule. I think you are conflating personal pleasure with other values.
    Because you're having to work at it.
    It's not about what is necessary. It's our nature to ask, to seek answers, to challenge even our own desires.
    Desire, need, curiosity, ... we are motivated by a plethora of physical and metaphysical phenomena.
     
  20. Nakosis

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    So what to you think is motivating you in these pursuits?

    Sorry, I don't know what you mean by work but you seem to be implying it a bad thing whatever it is.

    I don't assume it's everybody's nature. However I'm not saying it might not be yours.

    Ok we are motivated. If you feel this word covers a better spectrum, I'm ok with using "motivations" instead of "desires".

    I don't really seeing a problem with using matter/materialism to fulfill our motivations. If you feel there is a need for something else to fulfill your motivations that's ok to. Not everyone has the same motivations to be fulfilled.
     
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